Are food and eating a source of stress and anxiety for you during the holidays?
Practicing intuitive eating can be doubly difficult during the holidays, as many eating experiences may be outside your norm. Coupled with stressful family situations and annoyingly, abundant diet and weight conversation, holiday feasts may induce paralyzing worry and fear. Worry about what food and how many choices will be offered, and fear of how it might affect your body.
Holidays used to mean free-for-all eating for me. On countless holidays, I’d over exercise in the morning, plan what I would and would not allow myself to eat, restrict the type and amount of food leading up to the celebration, or hoard my self-induced calorie allotment until the delectable feast. Every time, I’d feel tremendous guilt, fullness, and stifling fear after finishing. While my friends and family lounged on the couch, played card games, and the like, I was ruminating about how I’d have to “make up” for this feast the next day. Sound familiar?
Before embarking on my intuitive eating journey, I didn’t understand why I felt so crazy around special occasions like holidays. I thought worrying, meticulously planning, and feeling guilty after eating exotic foods was completely normal. Didn’t everyone feel chaotic around typically off limit foods and didn’t everyone plan how to get back on track with rigid eating and rules during the “fun,” celebratory feasts? I’ve come to learn… absolutely not. It is not normal; it is simply life sucking, time consuming, and unnecessary. The enticing food and special treats were never the problem. No, my relationship to food and my body encompassed the real problem.
Inevitably, food is a large part of the holiday season, but it doesn’t have to instill worry and fear. It can be a fun, relational, and even a less important part of your holiday season this year, especially when you tap into your inherent intuition and ditch the diet mumbo jumbo trying to hijack your food and eating experiences.
We, as a society, tend to glamorize eating around the holidays, but it frequently transpires into fear mongering and guilt shaming. Instead of focusing on the real reason for the season, we overemphasize the food. This literally encourages us to hyperfocus on food and, subsequently, our bodies.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t get to relish in the more important aspects of the holiday season like family traditions, spreading joy, giving to others, carolling through the neighborhoods, expressing thanks and gratitude, and simply spending time with the ones we love most, as a result. Nonetheless, this year you can experience all of those this year. It will probably feel weird and foreign, but hopefully, it will feel equally freeing and peaceful with some intention and practice.
Here are a few intuitive eating tips to help you navigate and fully savor your holiday season:
- Practice tuning into your body. Easier said than done, I know, especially if you’ve been trying to override your body’s innate signals with diet and weight loss tips and tricks. Examples of this override might include: drinking detox teas, staving off hunger with celery or supplements, finishing a meal before you’re truly satisfied, and many more. As you repeatedly suppress your appetite and/or hunger, your body becomes confused, and this leads to that chaotic, overly worried feeling and increases cravings for the foods that are off limits according to your food rules. Thankfully, you can reclaim your innate body’s appetite, hunger, and fullness cues the more you practice intuitive eating! So, this holiday season, try the following to help you hone your true internal signals.
– List your top five to ten signs of hunger (like stomach growling, irritable mood, headaches, etc.) and vow to honor them with food that serves your hunger and satisfies your appetite.
– Complete a body scan before one eating experience a day to repeatedly discover what you’re body is trying to tell you, and honor it appropriately. You can do this via meditation, quick self dialogue, or simply tapping into how all the different parts of your boy feel in that moment.
– Practice honoring your cravings with appropriate portions for yourself, and keep a literal or mental journal of how you feel afterwards. Some questions to ponder include: “Did that satisfy my needs?” “Can I now focus on more important aspects of my day or this celebration?” “What can I do differently next time to enhance this eating experience?”
- Allow yourself to eat freely. A sure-fire way to overeat or binge eat during the holiday season is restricting the types and amounts of food you consume during this entire holiday season. An ingrained biological mechanism, your brain increases overwhelming cravings for the foods you mentally or literally deem off limits. When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, you will be able to choose which ones actually sound and/or will feel best for you in that moment. Sometimes it will be a filling, high fiber snack, and other times you might desire a double chocolate chip cookie. Whatever your choice, your brain and body will feel at ease knowing they do have a choice, and that the same choices will still be available in the future. This helps prevent those intense cravings (not that cravings are always negative or chaotic feeling) and that last supper mentality.
- Eat consistently and as “normally” as possible. Similar to the tip above, allow yourself to nourish your body as needed and as normally to your (hopefully) intuitive routine as possible. Our bodies prefer and operate best when we eat consistently, on a loosely structured routine. Meaning, if you normally eat three meals and a few snacks, it is best to continue eating similarly throughout the holidays. Once again, our bodies become confused and aggravated when we veer far off our individual normalcy, which increases anxiety, fear, and cravings. Even if your holiday feast includes more delectable and palatable foods, you still need adequate nourishment leading up to the celebration or eating experience. Instead of restricting or eating like a bird on celebratory days this year, try simply eating normally, and take note of how you feel going into your celebration and how you feel after! Then, problem-solve and adjust for next time if you feel less than satisfied and content.
- Avoid hoarding your calories until the big celebration. Again, along the same lines, abstain from planning for or engaging in the ultimate “Last Supper.” If it does happen, you needn’t feel guilty, as it is your body’s natural reaction to perceived starvation. I often tell my nutrition clients, the caveman mentality frequently eventuates into the last supper. When you hoard your calories and nourishment until some arbitrary point, you are much more likely to not only binge eat, but to feel irritable and moody leading up to the event. Ask yourself if feeling cray cray is better or more fruitful than naturally eating, honoring your body, and enjoying quality, undistracted time with your people.
- Make a plan for navigating diet and weight conversation. This last tip is arguably one of the most difficult because it is somewhat out of your control. You can choose how and when to nourish yourself appropriately, but you can’t choose how others decide to converse. Thus, it is helpful to create a game plan, so you can nip any disordered behaviors before they occur due to some ignorant comment Aunt Sally said. You are not a sponge, meaning, you don’t have to absorb everything others say, suggest, or do. Just because Aunt Sally forgoes the roll at dinner or rants about the energy content of pecan pie for dessert, doesn’t mean that is what’s best for you! And, rather than abruptly leaving the conversation or defensively arguing, although you do have that right, it is helpful to simply plan how you are going to deal with icky conversation. Some people prefer to repeat a few positive mantras about intuitive eating or body positivity to themselves and ignore engaging, while others feel OK kindly telling Aunt Sally that they don’t discuss diet talk and body shaming and ask to please steer the conversation elsewhere?! Both are wonderful game plans.
Wherever you are in your own intuitive eating journey, you are right where you’re supposed to be; please know that.
Nonetheless, there is no better time than right now to start practicing food and body freedom through intuitive eating. Instead of “committing” to a diet come January, commit to spreading joy, or appreciating the small moments of life, or committing one act of kindness each day. I promise you, the real meaning and intentions of the holiday season are so much more fulfilling and joyous than policing your food and micromanaging your body.
Adrien Paczosa is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian practicing in Austin, Texas and the surrounding counties.
She is the owner and founder of I Live Well Nutrition her Dietitian practice which started in 2007 and serves clients in the Austin, Texas area in two locations. Fearless Practitioners, the division of her business that offers training to dietitians and wellness professionals.